Some years ago I attended a ‘ministers’ fraternal’ where one of our city pastors was addressing his fellow-pastors on ‘ideal gospel preaching’ from Acts chapter 2. It was apparent that the speaker and most present had immediately related this Acts preaching to that taking place most Sundays in our church buildings. During open discussion I thanked the preacher for some positive points but mentioned that of course the sermon in Acts 2 wasn’t preached in some building but out in the Jerusalem market place. I wasn’t sure if the comment was well received.
Surely the ‘Good News of Jesus Christ’ was always intended for the market place. Every true preacher/teacher has been aware of that for over 2000 years, e.g. Jesus in the Galilean towns and countryside, the apostle Paul wherever he could find an open door, etc. Even John Wesley in 18th century England took to the fields to bring the Good News of the kingdom to the common people.
Many ‘churched’ folk today have forgotten that Jesus himself spent the greater part of his life as a working man: he was apprenticed in a joiner’s yard (I took a photo of a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth last year when visiting Israel, just as a visible reminder) and it is usually inferred that after Joseph’s death he became the breadwinner for a household of at least eight persons. From that joiner’s yard there surely came no slipshod work – badly mortised joints or puttied flaws. One wonders if Jesus’ apprentices were overworked or underpaid, were they treated as things or as people? It was only after he had discharged his domestic duties to his mother and siblings that Jesus dared enter on his wider public ministry.
A.C. Craig, in one of his sermons at Oxford University in the late 1930’s, spoke about ‘The Church the Body of Christ.’ Amongst other things he declared, ‘For the greater part of His (Jesus’) life, the body of Christ was exercised in the common processes of industry… The Church is called to be the Body of Christ in industry.’
When we speak of someone ‘working in/for the church’ we have in mind a professional clergyman or a Sunday School teacher or a fund-raiser for some project. We usually don’t include the many ‘ordinary believers,’ men and women, working hard and honestly for the glory of God and the good of society: at their office desk, on the factory floor, from the university rostrum, in the laboratory, in the home. These are the disciples Jesus is calling for today, whether at home or abroad. They discharge their responsibilities not as a drudgery or as a fight for their own advantage ‘but as a devotion, a thing offered, their contribution to God’s plan of building a wholesome communal life upon the earth… these are members of the Body of the Carpenter of Nazareth.’ Wow!!
This ‘market place community’ is what more and more believers around the globe are beginning to look for, praise God. Recently I listened to Wayne Jacobsen’s powerful interview with Josh Packard. Josh is a professor of sociology at the university of Northern Colorado, and has recently published a fascinating book called ‘Church Refugees.’ It’s the story of those many who are bailing on the traditional-institutional church because they are hungering for something more and something outside its walls. They are hungering for God himself, and they are hungering for ‘community’ outside of denominational bureaucracy and local church programs. They want to connect with Jesus and with the world. They are part of ‘God’s family in all the earth’ (Jacobsen). They’re exchanging rigid structure for spontaneous relationship. They refuse to be part of a church that hollers ‘come to us’ and neglects Jesus’ commission to disciple all nations in our ‘going’ (Mt. 28). They refuse to be church leaders experimenting with a better mousetrap.
Packard rightly says that often the church at large is quite brilliant at equipping ordinary people for different roles and functions (even better than political parties in promoting their cause), but then they keep the equipped stuck in the senior pastor’s vision and the local church program. ‘Let my people go!’
Here is the good news for those seeking to incarnate Christ and advance his kingdom in the market place – it actually works! I think of one of our house church members who starts the day at home, getting up early to bathe the day in prayer. She asks that she will do her work as a professional to the best of her ability and to God’s glory, she asks that she may sensitively ‘be Jesus’ to the customers that come her way. She hugs her fellow staff members (appropriately!) in a way that says, ‘You are important to me and to this company and to God.’ When she has on rare occasion lost her cool she has immediately apologised and reconciled. God is uniting the believers in that company in new-found mutual respect and real community. But it is spilling over – recently an area manager, by all reports definitely not a believer, commented about the unique unity and atmosphere in this particular branch of the company. You see, true community touches and transforms everybody for good, and moves many an inch nearer Christ. Our house church member has a particular feeling for the underdog, the overworked and underpaid, especially the poorer segment in the work place. Len Sweet has it right when he declares ‘You don’t understand anything about community until your community includes marginalised community.’
In a previous blog ‘Working the Fringes,’ I suggested that, if you don’t know where to start, you find some folk on the fringes of society, whether in your work environment or outside of it. Build relationships, earn trust, live rather than preach, and the rest follows because Jesus is already there. Like so many others, when I have in very small ways taken the good news to the poor, I have found that they become God’s news to me. We have a long way to go, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and God is more than willing and able!